Dayton: ‘Outdated’ clean water standard could doom mining industry – by Tom Scheck (Minnesota Public Radio – March 24, 2015)

Gov. Mark Dayton is siding with U.S. Steel in a battle over water pollution standards for the company’s taconite facility in Mountain Iron. In an interview with MPR News, Dayton said the existing sulfate standard aimed at protecting wild rice is out of date, and pushing it could be catastrophic for northeastern Minnesota.

As the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency prepares to release new environmental standards, U.S. Steel is lobbying the Legislature to delay the implementation of a clean water standard aimed at protecting water where wild rice grows.

The existing state standard prevents companies from discharging more than 10 milligrams of sulfate per liter of water. But company lobbyists and Iron Range legislators say the standard is too low. With his latest comments, his strongest to date on the long-running debate, Dayton is joining that group.

“Some people will say, ‘you’re going to abandon the standard,'” Dayton said. “But if the standard is obsolete and it’s not validated by current science and information, then to stick with it and close down an industry isn’t really well advised.”

Dayton said the sulfate standard is outdated and has rarely been enforced since it was first established in 1973. U.S. Steel’s Minntac plant was facing the new standard as it renewed a decades-old permit — something U.S. Steel said would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades.

Dayton cited a global slowdown in the steel industry as a factor in his decision. He said the sulfate standard is complex and doesn’t guarantee that wild rice will thrive.

“If you have an impossibly low standard that doesn’t correlate the problem that you’re trying to solve anyway … you put the whole industry out of business,” he said. “We don’t even know if it’s going to improve wild rice conditions and it’s going to be catastrophic for life up in northeastern Minnesota.”

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